News & Politics

Five Ways to Rewrite Bush History

Woulda, coulda, shoulda. The Bush presidency begins 2007 at its weakest since taking office in 2001. With an approval rating near the thirties and Congress under Democratic control, the administration is trying to figure out a path forward.

Here are five ways things might have turned out differently:

1. If President Bush’s first-term chief of staff, Andy Card, had found a good job for Karen Hughes’s husband, Jerry. Karen’s husband moped around Washington with an empty datebook, no golf buddies, and a bad case of Texas homesickness. If he’d been happier, Karen, the President’s counselor, might have stayed in the West Wing to continue knocking on W.’s hard head when he most needed tall doses of reality.

2. If the President had resisted the urge to throw Senator Trent Lott in front of a bus in 2002 when the Mississippi Republican made the mistake of praising former segregationist Strom Thurmond. Senator Bill Frist then would not have become majority leader. Working with Lott—a wily and more independent-minded leader than Frist—Bush might have been warned off the Terri Schiavo mess and could have focused on some legislative achievements before voters cried out for change in November.

3. If the White House early in 2001 had learned the Jim Jeffords lesson—that presidents who treat Congress with high-handed hubris never enhance their legislative effectiveness. Lawmakers might have warmed to the art of compromise in the last five years rather than the collide-and-divide politics President Bush has practiced. Vermont senator Jeffords said he had been driven from the GOP and switched his affiliation to give Democrats control for 19 months; by playing ball with him and others, not only could Republicans have retained control of the Senate then, but the Senate might well have remained firmly under Republican control for Bush’s final two years.

4. If administration officials like Karl Rove—including Richard Armitage, who discussed Valerie Plame with journalists Robert Novak and Bob Woodward—had fessed up early about their role in the Plame/CIA leak. Rove, had he not been distracted by the lengthy Plame investigation, might have been able to coax Bush out of his insistence on seating Texas loyalist and White House counsel Harriet Miers on the US Supreme Court—which more than any other single Bush decision alienated GOP conservatives.

5. If Bush’s advisers had invited congressional critic John Murtha to meet with the President about the Iraq War—as they privately discussed and never did. The President could have seized a chance to appear consultative, open to Democratic critics, and serious about identifying new approaches to the war—before the voters embraced divided government and compelled the replacement of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Murtha’s basic arguments, condemned by Republicans as “cut and run,” slowly picked up steam with the American public at the same time that escalating violence in Iraq undercut Bush’s insistence on “staying the course.”

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